Cayleigh was never the optimistic girl.
Sa tuwing may nangyayaring maganda sa buhay niya, pakiramdam niya ay kaagad na may hihinging kapalit o 'di naman kaya ay panandalian lang.
When she met John, the ghoster, as what her friends called him, she thought he wouldn't even be interested in her. But he was eager to know her better. Months went by and they were talking about a lot of things: work, career, their personal lives and even senseless stuff.
She thought, maybe, this would be her chance to experience love. That someone would be willing to delve into her lackluster life.
But as usual, her luck and happiness don't last long.
John disappeared from her life after five months of talking (and flirting). Bigla na lang nawala at hindi na muling nagparamdam.
She tried to reach him but to no avail. Parang pinutol na lang bigla ang lahat ng taling nag-uugnay sa kanila.
A lot of questions lingered in her mind days after she got "ghosted." A lot of whys and what-ifs. Bakit bigla na lang siyang nawala? Dahil nawala ang feelings? O baka wala naman talaga sa una pa lang? Pampalipas-oras lang? Baka na-realize niyang hindi niya talaga siya gusto? O baka may nahanap nang iba?
Her self-esteem was getting better, even by a little bit, for the past few months, but it crumbled right after that. Siguro nga, hindi siya kagusto-gusto. Siguro nga hindi siya deserving. She wasn't pretty. And she was boring, after all.
It took her three more months to start building her self-esteem again. She was also thankful that her friends helped her to move on.
"Maka-karma rin 'yon," Chi would always say.
"True. Ipasumpa mo kay Elle, tutal dilang-demonyo din 'yan," dagdag naman ni Ianne.
They accidentally found out what happened when they saw her crying. Hindi naman siya pala-share ng personal matters niya pero sobrang bigat lang ng dibdib niya noong araw na iyon kaya na-ikwento niya sa kanila.
They cheered her up for weeks and only focused on her. Hanggang sa mga sumunod na linggo ay napunta na kay John ang atensyon. They cussed and made fun of him in their group chat. Medyo nagi-guilty nga siya kapag ginagawa nila iyon dahil kahit papaano naging mabait ito sa kanya noon.
Pero sabi nga ng kaibigan nitong si Elle, hindi kawalan ang lalaking iyon. She must know her worth at hindi niya kasalanang na-ghost siya dahil wala naman siyang ginawang mali.
After that, she never thought about falling in love again. She didn't want to get hurt. Again. Tama na ang isang beses.
She focused on her work and did things that make her happy. Masaya naman na siya noon kahit mag-isa lang siya.
But fate seemed to have other plans. Isang John Santos na naman ang nakasalamuha niya.
Pakiramdam niya ay pinaglalaruan talaga siya ng tadhana. Sa dinami-dami ba naman kasi ng pwedeng makausap tungkol sa work ay iyong kapangalan pa ng lalaking nasaktan siya.
Every time his name pops up on her screen, naghahalu-halo ang pakiramdam niya. She would remember the good times with the first John, followed by the pain she felt when all of that disappeared. But this guy was quite different.
He looked quiet and aloof but he was also attentive and caring. Nang makita niya ito sa personal ay parang gusto niyang lumayo agad. He was cute, alright, but the way he stared at her made her restless. Para bang nasa kanya lang ang atensyon nito at hindi siya sanay ro'n. Why would people give her attention, anyway?
Ang cute din nitong mag-chat dahil laging may smiley face. Ghoster John never used emoticons. Sanay naman siya sa ganoon dahil ganoon din siya mag-text at mag-chat. But she had a penchant for people who use emoticons because she likes imagining them doing the same expressions. And it was more fun. Kaya nga lihim siyang natutuwa kapag nagbabasa ng group chats dahil halos lahat ng kaibigan niya ay mahilig doon.
Hindi rin nakatulong ang pang-aasar ng mga kaibigan nito lalo na noong nalaman nilang magkapangalan ang dalawa. She tried not to pay him attention but his character was just too interesting for her.
Napatanong din siya sa sarili niya kung interested din kaya ito sa kanya? At bakit? She already knew that she wasn't pretty. Sa grupo nila, siya siguro ang least attractive at interesting kaya bakit naman sa kanya magkakagusto?
However, Elle and Ianne said people have their preferences and standards, and beauty is subjective. Hindi rin naman dapat pagbasehan ang physical features para lang sabihing hindi ka deserving magustuhan.
Okay, happy crush lang, she thought, but everything changed and shifted when she drunk-texted him one Friday night.
"Oh my god!" she exclaimed as Elle told her what she did last night. "Ang kalat-kalat mo, self."
She tried recalling what she had said to him but her brain wouldn't even cooperate. Ayaw naman niyang tanungin ito dahil nakakahiya, kaya noong ito ang nag-open ng topic tungkol doon ay nag-panic siya. Gusto na lang niyang magpalamon sa lupa.
She promised herself na hindi na ito muling iinom pero sino nga bang niloko niya? Isa na namang drunk-calling session ang nangyari. She blocked him after realizing what happened because she couldn't face him anymore. Pakiramdam niya ay wala na siyang kahihiyang natira.
She consulted Elle about it dahil ito ang "big sister" ng grupo at kadalasan ay tama at may sense ang mga sinasabi niya.
Marami siyang na-realize pagkatapos no'n kaya agad itong nag-sorry. She thought he would be disappointed and would probably dislike her now kaya laking gulat nito nang nagtanong siya kung pwede bang tumawag.
She could feel the awkwardness and tension the moment she answered the video call. Hindi nito pinakita ang mukha dahil nahihiya siya. Meanwhile, he looked cute in his hoodies. His kind eyes and soft smile made her heart flutter.
She could feel her skin tingling while listening to him talk. They recalled things that happened that night at hindi siya makapaniwalang ikinuwento niya ang tungkol kay John, the ghoster.
"Akala ko nga noong una, sa akin ka galit," he chuckled while she winced in embarrassment. "Pero ang cute mo magalit."
"S-sorry," she said in an almost muted voice. "Kaya ba ang daming removed messages noong unang beses."
Muli itong tumawa nang pahapyaw. "Yup. I was so confused that time. Tapos naisip ko, ah, baka nga may nagawa talaga akong mali. Then came the second one."
Napakagat ito sa labi niya. "Nakausap mo pala si Elle."
"Oo. I remember her kasi nandoon din siya noong unang beses. Siya 'yong tumulong sa'yo sa banyo, 'di ba?"
Hiyang-hiya na ito sa mga pinag-uusapan at gusto na niyang i-end ang tawag, but at the same time, she wanted to hear his voice more.
"You were talking about him again," he added, a hint of concern on his tone. "Siya ba iyong sumusunod sa inyo noong nakita namin kayo?"
In the end, she told him about what happened. It was hard to talk about it but him listening attentively somehow made it less distressing. Hanggang sa nagkayayaan nang magkita.
They were supposed to meet anyway but asking her again made her face blush.
"Uhh . . . a-ano, iche-check ko muna ulit 'yong sched ko sa lab," she stuttered.
He lightly snickered. "No worries. Just tell me when you're available."
She had a hard time falling asleep for days. Laging sumasagi sa isip niya ang mangyayari sa Friday. Maski ang mga kaibigan niya, excited para sa kanya. They kept on teasing her. Lalo lang tuloy siyang kinakabahan.
"Hoy, Cayleigh, ano na?" siko ni Ianne sa kanya noong mag-6 P.M. na.
She drew a shaky breath. "Ano?"
Isang malakas na tawa ang isinukli ni Ianne. "Kabado much? Akala mo naman 'di pa nagkikita in person."
She couldn't concentrate the whole day. Panay ang tingin niya sa relo at phone niya kaya naman ngayong palapit na ang oras ng pagkikita ay hindi na siya mapakali.
Hindi niya rin alam kung bakit siya masyadong kinakabahan. Siguro ay dahil hindi ito work-related. They had only interacted because of their respective projects. Ngayon ay personal na ang reason.
Nagsimula siyang magligpit bandang 6:10 PM at sinabihan rin nito si Ianne. She inhaled sharply when she saw a notification from him after five minutes. It turned out he was already there.
Hala, ang aga naman niya, she thought. Nag-reply naman ito agad pero namura niya ang sarili niya nang masabi niyang naglalakad na 'sila' imbes na siya lang.
"Panic pa more," Ianne commented while laughing at her. "Baka akalain niyan makiki-third wheel ako."
Hindi na lang ulit ito umimik hanggang sa makarating sila sa town center.
It was already bustling with people, lalo na at Friday ngayon. The moment they entered the center area, she immediately saw him.
"Ayun siya," sabay hatak nito sa laylayan ng damit ni Ianne.
"Luh. Na-sight agad? Iba talaga ang paningin ng mga marurupok," she remarked, earning a glare from Cayleigh. "Chour lang, ito naman, masyadong seryoso. Seseryosohin ka ba?"
Hinampas nito ang braso ng kaibigan dahil kanina pa nang-aasar pero lalo lang siyang tinawanan.
"Sige na, pumunta ka na kay John another," sabay tulak nito sa kanya. "Text mo na lang ako 'pag need n'yo na ng topic o kaya need mo ng pick-up line."
Pumasok si Ianne sa Starbucks na nasa indoor habang nanatili siya sa kinatatayuan niya. She wanted to prepare herself for a few minutes but John suddenly looked at her direction . . . and their gazes met each other.
He was wearing a gray hoodie and she could see his white shirt underneath. May dala rin itong backpack gaya niya. He looked like a typical college guy and you wouldn't even think he was already 25.
She screamed in her head and wanted to run away, but John gave her a soft smile. Pakiramdam niya ay mayroong umikot sa tiyan niya. Her heart started thumping painfully against her chest, too.
Her feet steered her toward him and he was watching her as she came closer.
Ayan na naman 'yang tingin na 'yan, she remarked internally. Pakiramdam niya ay matutunaw siya sa tuwing nakatitig ito sa kanya. He had that intent yet kind gaze. Iyong parang lahat ng atensyon niya ay nakatuon sa 'yo.
"Good evening," John greeted with a gentle smile.
"Good evening din," bati nito pabalik.
Her heart was racing to the point that it was getting harder to breathe. Naalala niya tuloy ang usapan ng mga kaibigan niya sa group chat nila kanina at biglang namula ang pisngi niya sa hiya.
"Tara sa loob?" he asked.
Gusto niya sanang magpahuli at sumunod na lang sa likuran niya para makahinga nang maayos pero sinabayan siya nitong maglakad. He was slowing down his pace to match hers.
He held the door for her when they were entering the mall and she didn't expect that a simple gesture like that would make her heart flutter.
"Thank you," she said in a tiny voice.
Tahimik lang silang naglalakad sa loob. There was a noticeable tension between them. It was awkward but they were trying to act like they weren't.
Pareho silang napatigil nang sabay silang magsalita matapos ang ilang minutong katahimikan.
"You first," John said but she shook her hands and gestured at him.
"Hindi, ikaw na ang mauna."
Napaiwas agad siya ng tingin. She really couldn't hold her gaze while looking at someone.
"Kumusta ka pala?" tanong nito.
"Ayos lang naman," she replied even though she wasn't. Gusto na niyang sumigaw sa sobrang kaba. "Ikaw ba?"
"Nervous," he responded while looking in front of them.
He turned his head to her. "Kasi kasama kita ngayon."
She almost stopped walking because of what he had said. Hindi na niya alam kung ilang beses siyang sumigaw sa isip niya. She wondered how could he say those words without even getting embarrassed, but when she glanced back at him, his ears were burning red.
They continued walking, but this time, the tension in the air skyrocketed. They couldn't look at each other anymore because both their faces were flushed.
Cayleigh wished she could see his expression right now, but she was scared to glance again. Because she knew that the next time their eyes would meet . . .
. . . she'd be freefalling.